New York’s fracking ban is a mixed bag
Photo: jcommarotoNew York guvnah David Paterson this weekend banned high-volume fracking in New York state for seven months. It’s a half-yay because fracking (short for hydraulic fracturing) is as destructive as it sounds. The natural gas drilling technique involves mixing nearly 600 chemicals with freshwater, then blasting underground rock with up to 8 million gallons of it, polluting drinking water in the process. But Paterson vetoed a stronger drilling ban that would’ve stopped all natural gas drilling til mid-May.
The loophole green groups are worried about: Since the ban is only on horizontal drilling, companies might drill vertically instead. Not only can 16 vertical wells legally occupy the space of one horizontal well — doing significant surface damage, according to NRDC — but vertical wells can later be converted to horizontal ones, and vertical drilling poisoned 13 Pennsylvania families’ drinking water earlier this fall.
Why drillers think it’s no big deal: Writes Forbes‘ Christopher Helman, “Drillers don’t much care about the New York ban because they have plenty of other places to develop.” Like Pennsylvania. The Marcellus Shale, a swath of rock containing natural gas, lies beneath much of southern New York, but also parts of Pennsylvania and Ohio and almost all of West Virginia — where regulations are lighter. (See this map.)
EPA’s gonna get you: The EPA is investigating the effects of fracking on drinking water, and proposed legislation would make companies reveal what toxics are involved, notes The Hill. Even Forbes agrees: “[C]ompanies, like Halliburton, that lead the market for fracking, need to publicly reveal all the chemical components that go into the stuff and give the rationale for why they are used.”
A fracking framework: The drilling technique is hot right now because it allows access to big areas of natural gas previously though unrecoverable. Continued cheap natural gas could contribute to coal’s demise, which is cool and all, but it’s still a fossil fuel.